Oscar Washington Tabarez: the Soccer Teacher

Did you know that there's a former schoolteacher who's currently directing a top-10 national FIFA team? In this article, we invite you to learn about the life and style of Oscar Washington Tabarez.
Oscar Washington Tabarez: the Soccer Teacher

Last update: 03 February, 2020

When you talk about Oscar Washington Tabarez, you’re going to be talking about records, values, and humility. This is a figure who represents an entire country’s feelings on soccer and life in general. Also nicknamed “The Teacher,” he got this nickname because of his schoolteacher background. He’s an ex-soccer player and current trainer of the Uruguayan national football team.

He was born in Montevideo on March third, 1947. Specifically, he comes from the Brazo Oriental neighborhood. From early childhood, he was connected to soccer by playing street games. Today, he’s the coach who holds the record for the longest time coaching a national team – 15 years. He also holds the record for the coach who’s participated in that capacity in the highest number of World Cups (4). Yet all of those honors are paltry compared to his influence on society.

The beginnings of Oscar Washington Tabarez: “The Teacher”

At the beginning of his life, Tabarez lived a normal life for Uruguayan children of the time. He played soccer and he went to school. In that society and at that time, people considered these to be the best ways to get ahead in life.

He made his debut as a soccer player in 1967 with the Sud America Soccer Club. According to him, he achieved this position not because he was a skillful player, but because of his refusal to give up. He would go on to play in five Uruguayan soccer clubs as well as in the Mexican club, Puebla FC.

Oscar Washington Tabarez with a teammate.

A nonconformist

The desire for improvement had left its mark on Tabarez. After finishing high school, he continued to put his efforts into education. He started to study law. However, he quickly found out that it wasn’t for him.

Once he did, he quit this career path to go into something else. This time he hit upon a career that would leave a mark upon his life: teaching.

Tabarez used the little economic gains he got from soccer in order to support his family, which he started at a young age. That’s also what lead him to finish his academic career and devote himself to the teaching profession. That’s how he came to be a teacher and a soccer player at the same time. He lived and worked in poor neighborhoods in the western part of the capital.

“The holy grail of soccer is the word ‘balance’, when we attack, we need to be able to attack, but this isn’t abstract — it is because ball possession has been recovered or from good defensive work.”

-Oscar W. Tabarez-

Starting out as a coach

The Teacher began his career as a trainer from the very bottom. That was the only way things could have been. In 1980 he got his initial experience in the field by coaching the juvenile division of a modest club called “Bella Vista.” Afterward, in 1983, he would go on to coach in the place where he’d spend most of his years in this field. Namely, the national soccer team. However, he started out training the U-20 team.

A dizzy beginning

His first job coaching adults would begin in 1984 when he took this position for the Danubio Futbol Club of Montevideo. With his impressive style, he quickly rose up the ranks to work with better clubs. While maintaining his characteristic humility, he had the initiative to present his projects and vision to the right people.

Good opportunities didn’t take long to come about. In 1987, just seven years after he began his coaching career, he managed to achieve the highest continental title with Club Penarol. Specifically, he obtained this by winning the CONMEBOL Libertadores competition. From that point forward, his career didn’t stop growing. He went on to work with the following clubs:

  • 1988: Colombia’s Deportivo Cali
  • 1991: Argentina’s Boca Juniors
  • 1994: The Italian Cagliari
  • 1996: Italy’s Milan
  • 1997: Real Oviedo in Spain
  • 1999: Cagliari
  • 2000: Argentina’s Velez Sarsfield
  • 2002: Boca Juniors de Argentina

Oscar Washington Tabarez and the national team: the first term

In 1988, Oscar Washington Tabarez began to work with Uruguay’s greatest team. Despite a raucous beginning, he managed to get the “celestial team” to the 1990 World Cup in Italy. There, he managed to get past the group stage, but his team lost in the quarter-finals against the competition’s hosts. Even in his first years working with the National Team, The Teacher proved himself. He showed that he was more than just a soccer man. He was a man of values.

“There are more or less 200,000 boys playing soccer in Uruguay, of this only 0.14 percent may have a possibility of going to Europe, the parents are making the wrong gamble and we have to make them aware of these facts.”

—Oscar W. Tabarez—

Second period with the national team

During the first half of the 20th century, Uruguay had been left behind. Oscar Washington Tabarez grew up in Uruguay which had been a world soccer champion twice. That was also a testament to its team’s bravery and good technical play. During the 90s, the country was going through a crisis – one that involved not only soccer but society as a whole. At that time, they had lost the connection to their glorious past.

“Three million are bringing down the sky”

In 2006, the Uruguayan national football team failed to qualify for that year’s World Cup in Germany. That’s when The Teacher, Oscar Washington Tabarez, took up the helm once again. He laid the foundations for a project that continues to this day. This project brought back the pride of this small nation (it only has a population of three million). The main bases for this project were:

Lower categories: most members of the current team come from the so-called “process of inferiors.” There, experts can identify them as children with a model of play and with the values that the national team holds.

Sense of belonging: Tabarez rebuilt the link to Uruguay’s storied past. Playing in the national team is the greatest reward for any Uruguayan player.

Oscar Washington Tabarez at a press conference.

Work and humility: sacrifice and devotion are not negotiable. The players are role models and they represent their society. For example, it’s very common for Uruguayan players to bring their own equipment to a training session.

Group cohesion: The Teacher is well aware that a group reaches a state of cohesion when they meet certain requirements. Namely, this happens when a team is made up of people with common attitudes and experiences.

The children of Uruguay

The Teacher believes that children are the country’s greatest asset. He knows that more than 99 percent of them won’t be able to make a living from playing soccer. That’s why he’s always believed that education is very important. In a world where soccer and instant gratification are glorified, Tabarez has desired to change something more than soccer. With his philosophy and methodology, he has endeavored to change the society around him itself. Today, Tabarez plays a role beyond just a battle-hardened warrior. He’s become a role model.

“Those kids will never forget that moment, I’m very proud about the way in which we live and experience soccer in our country. I talk to the players about this and use it as part of their motivation.”

—Oscar W. Tabarez—

The journey is its own reward

In his second term with the national team, he incorporated technological improvements into his coaching. He also made more use of statistical analysis of the opposing teams as well as of his own players during matches. Nevertheless, beyond these improvements, he also instilled the idea of the “process” into the culture of the national team. This is a long-term project that soon began to give fruits in terms of raw results:

  • Fourth place at the 2010 South African World Cup.
  • Champion of the Copa America 2011.
  • Qualification for the 2010 South Africa, 2014 Brazil, and 2018 Russia World Cups; his teams went past the group stage in each of these.
  • Winning South American tournaments with lower divisions and also reaching the final stage of various World Cups.

Oscar Washington Tabarez overcoming life’s obstacles

Today, at 72 years of age, Oscar Washington Tabarez continues to lead the Uruguay National Football Team. In this position, even his rivals admire and applaud him. It’s also not uncommon to see him walking with a cane or in a cart to get around the field. For many years, The Teacher has been suffering from peripheral neuropathy that limits his movement.

Yet it can’t be helped. That’s also why there’ve been times when he’s overcome the sickness with his passion. When his team scores a goal, it’s incredible to see how he gets on his feet. It’s like a yell of glory that goes through the body as his soul lifts him up.

If Uruguay plays, Oscar Washington Tabarez will be there

He’s committed to a playstyle that many call “defensive.” Tabarez has also proven that he knows how to find and shape people to become great soccer players. That’s all thanks to a process that lets people know what path they need to take for lasting results. Discipline, devotion, and willingness to counterattack are important to his 4-4-2 plan. What’s more, that same plan has inspired great soccer teams, such as Atletico de Madrid.

Oscar Washington Tabarez is currently under a contract that’s set to last until the 2022 Qatar World Cup. That means that you’re also going to be able to enjoy his work for a little while longer.

No matter what happens, he’s already earned his immortality in the soccer world. His legacy will also continue to ring out in the “celestial complex,” which is what the Uruguayans call their training center. Thanks to this teacher, it now combines soccer with education.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.